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Les Snead delivers a solid draft in the clutch

Fans love grades, but are roster questions answered?

Rams sign Steve Avila to bolster offensive line
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was needed. Even if just to reassure fans that the wheels are not coming off. Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams took the first day off in the 2023 NFL Draft for the seventh straight year, but stepped up on Days 2 and 3 with deft maneuvers that led to answers for nagging roster questions.

Snead both traded back and forward to finish the process with 14 picks and craft a well-round group. He made an overt attempt upgrade the pass rush, added a bruiser on the offensive line, and brought some speed to the secondary. Not to mention additions of backup quarterback and punter, two position groups that were completely void.

Rather than try to give the effort a letter grade, here’a an introduction to the Rams new draftees and an attempt to see if the draft really answered any questions about the L.A. roster.

#36) Guard Steve Avila, TCU - 6’ 4” / 332 lbs. / 33” arms / 4.74 shuttle / 7.85 3cone

Fans are rejoicing, the Rams got them their mauler. Not just bully in the run game, Avila is also adept in pass protection, not giving up a sack in his final two college season. He’s a wide-body who has the prerequisite NFL athleticism. His strength, agility, and athletic testing numbers are spot on with Gil Brandt’s positional target results. His versatility to play center almost cements his status into a 2023 plug-and-play role. I liked him as a mid Round 2 player.

#77) E Byron Young, Tennessee- 6’ 2” / 250 bs. / 32 1/2” arms / 4.43 forty

Elite athletic upside. Going to need some grooming, particularly in defending the run and breaking loose when bigger blockers clamp on. But he can certainly offer pass rush help right away with his twitch, length, and motor. He is hell-bent in pursuit bends well, not only around the corner, but explodes through gaps on twists and stunts. If you take time to read his back story, it’s about facing up to adversity and demons and overcoming it. I graded him in Round 4 with a big athletic upside.

#89) Kobie Turner, Wake Forest- 6’ 2” / 288 lbs. / 32” arms / 32” arms / 10 1/4” hands

Has shown the work ethic to improve his game. Smoothly made the step up from FCS walk-on to ACC and now faces a steeper challenge. His overall 92.2 Pro Football Focus grade was only surpassed by Round 1 pick Jalen Carter amongst defensive linemen. Played up and down the line and has great get off. His 4.49 shuttle and 7.08 3Cone help visualize his burst and lateral agility. I graded Turner as a Round 5 developmental prospect.

#128) Quarterback Stetson Bennett, Georgia - 5’ 11” / 192 lbs. / 10” hands

On its face, this selection seems a little early, but I understand why it happened. When New Orleans took Jake Haener at #127, it ignited a run on the second tier of quarterbacks. 5 of the next 14 picks were QB’s and two more soon followed after that. . It makes me think the Rams had targeted either Haener or Bennett and didn’t want to get left behind. I graded him as a priority free agent, don’t think he has NFL arm talent, but he can run a system and knows how to win. If he’s the Rams guy, then he’s mine, too.

#161) Edge Nick Hampton, Appalachian State- 6’ 2” / 236 lbs. / 4.58 forty

Showed play making ability in college with 40 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Gifted pass rusher who was named to the Feldman’s Freaks list for strength and athleticism. He already possesses a nice set of rush moves. He doesn’t have prototypical size and that may create some NFL growing pains, but he is physical enough, has good length and a hot motor. With a speed player, it isn’t always realistic to say “just put on more mass”, but certainly, his play strength could be improved with pro conditioning program. I had a late Round 4/early Round 5 grade, with concerns that his size could deter his run defense.

#174) Tackle Warren McClendon, Georgia- 6’ 4” / 306 lbs. / 34 1/2” arms

I like this pick and had McClendon graded in Round 5. Three-year starter on a Top 5 offensive team. Tough and durable, he is accomplished in both the run and pass game. Looks and plays bigger than his reported size. As you would would expect from prospects out of Georgia , he has good technique and fulfills his responsibilities. He’s not a freakish athlete, but moves well, on both pulls or climbing to the second level. A nice fit into the Rams schemes.

#175) Tight end Davis Allen, Clemson- 6’ 6” / 245 lbs. / 10” hands / 38 1/2” vertical

His big, soft hands, ball-tracking, and body control could make him a comfort blanket receiver. He lacks the speed and to be a weapon, but generally has good athleticsm/agility and should be fine in the short/mid range. Slightly above average blocker who has good form that compensates for play strength. Drafted about right and is a solid high-floor choice. In my grade book, Davis was Round 6.

#177) Wide receiver Puka Nacua, BYU- 6’ 2” / 201 lbs. / 31 1/2” arms / 4.57 forty

His overall game is better than its independent parts. Not an elite athlete, he is nonetheless a formidable open field runner. Has contact balance, physical through tackles, good vision, and cuts at speed. Willing blocker, who will likely be a hard-charging special team warrior. I had him as a late round 5 grade.

#182) Cornerback Tre’ Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU- 5’ 8” / 179 lbs. / 29” arms / 4.41 forty

But for two inches and 10 lbs., he would have been a top prospect. He is a stellar blend of sticky coverage, quick read/reaction and tackling skill. I try to stay away from early starter predictions, but I feel strongly that THT wins a starting role. Think a Darious Williams reboot. Twitchy athlete, aggressive in run support and on blitz calls. I had a Round 3 grade on him. Stellar value pick.

#189) Edge Ochaun Mathis, Nebraska- 6’ 5” / 250 lbs. / 10 3/4” hands / 35 1/4” arms

Lot of work here, but a real upside. Has good get off to rush outside and change of direction to counter back in. Good motor and pursuit to ball, always working towards QB, even when blocked off. Needs work on technique and stacking moves. Doesn’t have great bend, needs work improving his ability to use his stellar length and getting under blockers to flatten around corner. I like him a lot and had him grade at late Round 6/early Round 7.

#215) Running back Zach Evans, Ole Miss- 5’ 11” / 202 lbs. / 4.45 forty

A talented one cut and go runner with a physical style. Has enough speed to break outside, but is at his best and is predominantly, a downhill runner. Doesn’t appear to be a natural, smooth receiver, often wants to run before looking the ball into the hands. Is willing in pass blocking. Sound SEC runner who’s a bargain at this slot. I had him with a Round 4 grade.

#223) Punter Ethan Evans, Wingate

Don’t know a bunch about this prospect. He has good size, 6’ 3” 238 lbs. with 35 7/8” arms and 10 1/4” hands. 89 of his 186 punts inside the twenty highlighted a stellar D2 career and earned him an East-West Shrine Bowl invite. As a senior, Evans was also the Wingate place kicker, although his totals, 62.1 yards on kickoff, 10 of 18 field goals, and 43 of 44 PAT’s, don’t really measure up to NFL standards.

#234) Safety Jason Taylor, Oklahoma State- 6’ 204 lbs. / 32” arms / 4.50 forty

A late-round player who I’ve went on about for his versatility in the secondary and acumen on special teams. He could develop into a Rams playmaker in the secondary with his ball tracking/hawking skills and overall athleticism (9.30 RAS score). Experienced in both deep zone and slot man coverages. Although best deep to survey and read the field, he is also good in run support. Taylor adds much-needed speed and athleticism to the safety unit. I had a Round 6 grade on the Cowboy.

#259) Defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson, Toledo- 6’ 2” / 285 lbs. / 31 7/8” arms

Lined up at defensive tackle in a four-man front, although some reports think he could play edge as a pro. Had very good college production, but seems to lack NFL speed and size. Has a good first step and shows some strong hands. Didn’t have this player on my board, although I read on Turf Show Times that the Rams had met with him.

Grades or answers?

Let’s stick to answers, grades are too subjective. First,

  1. Were the roster needs filled?
  2. Were resources allocated across the roster?
  3. Can any of these players make the final 53?
  4. Is there value in these picks?
  5. Is the roster more athletic?

With some minor reservations, the answer to all is, yes.

Team needs were all touched on, although I might have double-dipped into the cornerback class because it was so deep this year. I really like Hodges-Tomlinson and Taylor though, and would expect them both to challenge for play time as rookies. The pass rush certainly got an upgrade, the three edge prospects can all get after the quarterback. Two really nice picks on the offensive line, durable tough guys from top offensive programs.

As per usual, L.A. has made high-effort players a priority. Keeping that in mind, it looks like a well-rounded draft. By that, I mean it seems balanced between offense and defense, some high risk/reward types and solid high-floor candidates. Choosing two defensive linemen on the smaller side makes me wonder if the Rams are going to continue moving towards more traditional 4-man fronts and less 3-4 formations.

Yes with one reservation. I’m not so sure about Desjuan Johnson, but at #259, a role on the practice squad should be considered “making it”. I would not be the least bit surprised to see six draftees, Avila, Young, Hampton, Allen, Hodges-Tomlinson, and Taylor eventually work their way into roles, to go along with special teams work. Might as well add Evans too, he’s the only punter on the roster.

Kind of subjective, but yes. I don’t have access to all the other draft boards, but all the draftees, maybe excepting Evans and Johnson were fairly regarded/rated players and offer up not only draft slot value, but filling roster needs value. Again, maybe Stetson was a bit of a reach but sometime circumstances dictate a move. I had argued last week that I thought this year was the year to trade up rather than back. My thinking was that since the Rams were going to have to sign 30+ undrafted free agents to fill out the 90 man roster, why not trade up and grab the highest rated talent you can. After all, what’s five more free agents when the talent level between them and the last two round sis not that wide. Obviously, the Rams didn’t buy into that, they took six players in Rounds 6 and 7 and 10 in the last 100 picks of the draft.

A resounding yes on individuals and overall, each of the conscripts athletic profile’s are above average. It’s not a sprint squad on a track team, but they all have plus athletic traits that coincide with their position. Setting aside the punter, the linemen Avila, Turner, and Johnson all show solid short area agility, the edges, Young, Hampton, and Mathis are all very athletic. The secondary players, Hodges-Tomlinson and Taylor are at the top of their respective units. Running back Evans is both agile and fast. Tight end Davis had a very good vertical and long jump. Even quarterback Stetson put up some good numbers.

It’s not the be-all-end-all, but it is a first step, a solid draft after a winter of house cleaning. With a little luck on the injury front in training camp and a couple of these rookies living up to their potential, the outlook for 2023 doesn’t look so dim, at least in the cheery light of May.